There's an old saying that goes like this: "Opportunity knocks only once. You never know if you'll get another opportunity."
In sports more than anything else this is true.
About an hour after the Rangers won Game 7 against the Penguins I took the puppy out for a walk before bed. I looked up at the night sky, took a deep breath and basked in the moment. It was the first few seconds of the past few days I allowed myself to have a "that just happened" moment. It was exhilarating to say the least. It was also a very stark contrast to just a few nights before, after Game 4.
Now that I'm out of the house Dad and I don't travel to and from Rangers games anymore. Well, except for the playoffs. During the playoffs we meet at The Garden and I usually go home back to Long Island since the train ride/car ride is so much shorter and it allows me to get a normal night's sleep before work the next day. It also allows me to plan for overtime. After the game we usually catch up, talk about the game, talk about future plans, whatever. I'm getting married in less than a year, I have a new puppy, work is going well, there's a lot of different things we can talk about.
Not after Game 4. All I can remember about the drive home was the silence. It was almost overwhelming. I feel like it accurately described the moment. There was nothing to talk about. I'm positive by nature, especially with sports. Dad is more of a realist, although he tends to fly to the extreme on both ends of the spectrum in the first moments after something happens. The fact that neither of us had anything to say? I don't remember that happening before in my life.
You know what happened next. Tragedy struck Martin St. Louis. The team saw a true leader do something he didn't have to, and then they rallied around him. Chris Kreider came back. The Rangers kind of found their legs. They dominated Game 5. They dominated Game 6. They played well in Game 7 and watched Henrik Lundqvist hit the pause button and turn on his "God Mode" setting to get through the final three minutes. The Rangers won the series. It became the first time in franchise history they came back from a 3-1 series deficit. It was also the first time in franchise history they beat the Penguins in the post season. Later that night I find myself smiling at the night sky waiting for my puppy to poop. That's hockey.
With sports we live for those moments. Those moments where your favorite team grabs you by the hair and says, "we're going for a ride" and then drags you through an emotional roller coaster you can't seem to appreciate while you're going through it. More importantly, you never really know how the ride will end. More often than not, your car will fly off the rails and you'll be left waiting for next year. But sometimes you get to the finish line. And then you get on line for another, crazier ride and do the whole thing again.
In a lot of ways, that's what the playoffs is about. Think about how emotionally drained you were after Game 7. All those emotions bubbling to the surface. Everything from despair after Game 4 to jubilation after Game 7. Imagine how that must feel to the players actually playing the game. Now take a step back and realize this team is only halfway to their goal of winning a Stanley Cup.
Once I had time to appreciate what the Rangers had done, I took a little trip to the past. I conjured up memories of the Conference Finals series against the Devils. Quick story about that: I watched Game 6 at my friend Ant's house (the same Ant I mention in the morning notes all the time) who lives way up in Branford, CT. We were up there for a party or something, I really can't remember. Anyway, after the Rangers lost in overtime I stood up and left his house immediately without saying a word. I then drove all the way to Long Island in complete silence.
Remember how I told you I'm a positive person? I listened to the John Tortorella interview on the radio after the game that night and he said (I'm paraphrasing) "I like where this team is, I like where we're going." And I agreed. I thought the future was bright. I was happy about at least one little thing on that night.
Last year scared the crap out of me, though. To be so thoroughly dismantled by the Boston Bruins rattled me. Maybe the Rangers don't have the future I thought they did. Maybe they can't fix these problems. What's the solution? Is Tortorella really the problem? Does this team have the core to get the job done? Are they pointing up or down?
This comeback ensured my positive thoughts from this summer. Alain Vigneault was quite clearly the right man for the job. There will be a separate story on him at a later date, but his calm navigation through the rocky waters of this season can not (repeat: CAN NOT) be understated. He's a big reason why this team is where they are. Which is obviously a coaches' job, but I'm not sure many men would have handled the pressure, (unfair) scrutiny and screaming the way he did.
It's important to me to watch this team succeed for a lot of reasons. I was telling a friend of mine that I've never felt an emotional connection with a Rangers team as strong as I am with this one. Everything from St. Louis playing in Game 5, to Derick Brassard telling the media the entire team would have traveled back with St. Louis that night if they could have, to the entire team attending his Mother's funeral on Sunday. It's almost too much to handle. We love this team more than most things in our lives, so to see them love each other just as much makes it even more special. That's why the end of Game 4 hurt so much. It's also why the end of Game 7 felt so friggin' good. It's why we all drool over St. Louis telling everyone he's "so F-ing proud to be a New York Ranger" moments after putting his hand over his heart to thank the crowd for their support after Game 6. I can't explain it, but you know what I mean.
Anyway, what I'm trying to say is enjoy what you have. Enjoy this ride. It's been a ton of fun. In a couple of days we're going to be back on the roller coaster, and the emotions are going to be so much more ramped up that we're going to forget to enjoy the view.
So since we're waiting in line for the ride to start anyway, let's take a look at the view from up here. You never know when you'll be back.
And if you take a moment to look around, it's actually really nice.